Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Sacrifice"

**1/2

Air date: 2/10/2006
Written by Anne Cofell Saunders
Directed by Reynaldo Villalobos

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Sacrifice" reminds me of "Bastille Day" in that it's a competently executed routine plot with moments that transcend the overall structure. The problem is just that: It feels like a competently executed routine plot with just a few moments that transcend the whole. It doesn't feel like it's actually happening (which is one of BSG's usual strengths). It exists more often within standard, uninventive storytelling conventions.

At this point in my movie- and TV-viewing life, I'm almost willing to say that any pitch that can be summarized as "hostage situation" should be thrown out by whomever is potentially producing it. At its core, that's what "Sacrifice" is — a "hostage situation." On the Cloud Nine, terrorists take over the bar — which happens to be conveniently occupied by several key Galactica characters — and make their demands. The question is how to deal with the terrorists and how to save the hostages. Describing it like that is probably enough to make your eyes glaze over.

Fortunately, there's a little more to it than that, and it's worth noting that BSG's writers have employed their routine plot in a way that makes sense and relates to key issues on the show. The terrorists are demanding that Admiral Adama turn over Sharon Valerii to them for execution because they think she's a Cylon agent that's working for the Cylons and not the Colonial Fleet. Hell, they may even turn out to be right. You never know with the Cylons, not even with Sharon, who has saved the Galactica on more than one occasion.

The terrorists are led by Sesha Abinell (Dana Delaney), who, we learn in the opening minutes, lost her husband in a recent Cylon attack. She's fed up with the Colonial Fleet's apparent lack of assessing and dealing with threats, and says that if the military is not willing to take action against Valerii, then she and other civilians must take matters into their own hands.

Sesha is a domestic terrorist, plain and simple; she's willing to kill, or even be killed, so long as her cause is advanced. Like any ready-to-be-martyred terrorist, to her the movement is larger than her own life or anyone else's. She's using violence to advance a cause she believes will make things better for the homeland, as opposed to a terrorists who want to simply destroy his enemies. The arrogance of domestic terrorism is, of course, that a few people decide to do what they think is right for all of us, meanwhile using innocent bystanders as currency.

The selfish human complication here is that Sesha has lost someone close to her. But as Adama rightly points out, everyone in the Fleet has lost someone — if not everyone — close to them. What makes Sesha more entitled to carry out terrorist threats and take hostages? The answer, obviously, is nothing. I'm trying to do character analysis here, but there's really not much to say about the personality type that believes they're entitled to demands simply because they've made them.

The reason you can't negotiate with terrorists is very simply, as Tigh puts it, because you'd "open the floodgates." You'd be under siege every week. The story question here is how the people in charge of working the threat behave when the threat becomes personal (a plot thread which propelled an entire season, or perhaps three, of 24). On board the Cloud Nine are Lee, Dualla, Billy, and Ellen Tigh. This makes it a very personal situation for Adama, Roslin, and Tigh as they make decisions on how to handle the crisis from the Galactica. Much of the episode is about stalling for time, as such hostage scenarios ago.

Interesting is how much of a hard line Roslin takes. She seems even less willing to cave — even for the sake of stalling — than does Adama. True, Billy is not her blood the way Lee's is Adama's, but as Roslin correctly points out, Billy is as close a thing to family as she has left in this world. The terrorists know who the hostages are and use that knowledge. Meanwhile, Adama contacts Kara, who just happens to be taking vacation time also on Cloud Nine, so she can infiltrate the bar for recon purposes.

On board the Cloud Nine are the usual standoffs, shootings, etc. One thing that definitely got my attention, however, was the story's massive momentum shift when Kara ends up in the bar and gets forced into a shootout with the terrorists. In the confusion, she accidentally shoots Lee in the chest ("It was friendly fire," she later tells Adama, in tears). Every once in a while something happens in a routine plot that makes you sit up and become reinvested in the story, and this is one of those moments.

Such moments are the exception to the rule, however. "Sacrifice" is more often reluctant to deviate from formula. Possibly the most true-to-BSG moments are the ones that focus on character rather than plot, like the opening sequence where Billy proposes marriage to Dualla, who, in a scene of agonizing discomfort, turns him down. Naturally, it follows that Dee and Lee — who have been the corners in the Dee-Billy-Lee triangle for several episodes now — will shortly thereafter unexpectedly run into Billy at the bar on the Cloud Nine just before the terrorists take it over. Billy's words to Dualla here are even more agonizing, because they are in response to a perceived betrayal, and have the ring of truth. I'd imagine I'd be pretty pissed too, if I were in his position.

The other unexpected moment is when Billy is shot and killed in the episode's climactic struggle for control of the bar, when the marines storm in and the machine guns come out. Billy has been on this series since the beginning, and killing him here is what earns the story its title, since most of the characters in the episode don't have to make any real sacrifices. If this episode truly had the convictions of its title, Adama would have to let Lee bleed to death rather than negotiate with the terrorists, but obviously we are boxed in here by the fact that we can't go killing off our lead characters (just the supporting ones).

What does not play as a surprise is Adama's attempted shell game, where he pretends he's going to hand Sharon over to Sesha and instead gives her the corpse of the Sharon killed in "Resistance." This will instantly be obvious to any audience member (who has been paying attention) from the moment Adama announces his terms and hangs up the phone. My thinking is that it should've been obvious to Sesha as well, since the other Sharon's death is a matter of public record.

The episode's best payoff is the heartbreaking scene where Roslin visits Billy's body in the morgue. Roslin, who maintained a tough, rightful hard line about not caving in to terrorists during the crisis, is seen at the end as an individual who has truly paid the price of those convictions. It's a credit to Mary McDonnell's performance that all sides of Roslin's persona exist believably, seamlessly, and in no way in contradiction with each other. They are a part of a realized whole.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the scene where Dualla visits Lee in sickbay. Clearly, this is a woman who has reached a conclusion about who she's really in love with. Maybe that's an easier conclusion to reach when the other guy is lying on a slab in a freezer. Yes, relationships can be messy and sometimes you crash through one with no idea where it's going or why, but this to me feels a little nebulous, like the writers just sort of concocted the Dualla/Lee thing — even though, yes, there were hints of it as far back as "Resistance."

I guess that's as a good note as any to end on regarding "Sacrifice." This is an okay show with some nice moments, but it's not a deep or complex one, and it doesn't feel ironclad in its romantic motivation. And I guess every once in a while a supporting character has to die to remind you that maybe no one is safe.

Previous episode: Scar
Next episode: The Captain's Hand

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15 comments on this review

Chris - Tue, Dec 23, 2008 - 4:05am (USA Central)
Hello Jammer,

I am currently in the process of watching the show for the first time and by this episode, BSG seem to be more depressing than anything I've seen on TV before, including X-Files and the first three seasons of 24. It seems the writers are getting out of their way to systematically break the characters (seriously, who isn't a manic-depressive or drug addict yet?) and to delay or skip expected payoff scenes. It's become more of a cathartic experience than entertainment.

In this particular case, I was looking forward to a Starbuck/Apollo scene where they bring up the friendly fire incident, but I guess the Dualla/Apollo pairing (which severely lacks chemistry between the actors in my opinion) was more important. Secondly, sticking Starbuck into the background is a silly plot device and a rather cheap and ancient way of exposition that has been used by BSG several times already.

And then there is the death of Billy, which I felt was gimmicky at best and just a way to create a Dualla/Apollo/Starbuck love triangle taken straight out of Beverly Hills 90210. Besides, I think the Dualla character comes off like a hooker in this one. Does she even mourn for Billy?

The one thing that really works here is the aforementioned friendly fire accident. Now here's something that is a natural risk in such a line of work (I suppose) and doesn't happen to often on screen. I certainly didn't expect it. But overall this was a weak episode and not the kind of "dark entertainment" I am looking for - it's just to obviously messing with the audience.

Overall, I think you nailed it once again. While I concurred with most of your old Trek reviews, your take on BSG seems to be even closer to my own.

With best wishes from Germany,
Chris
Dizzle - Fri, Nov 6, 2009 - 11:48pm (USA Central)
Unexpected moment of Billy dying? Really? Ever since this Dee-Lee romance came out of nowhere it was clear that Billy had very few episodes left to live out his pathetic, skinny, non-military existence.
breadbohn - Tue, Feb 2, 2010 - 10:21am (USA Central)
I agree with Dizzle. In the opening, "previously on BSG" scenes, there were a lot of reminders of Billy's previous existence. I turned to my wife and said, "Billy's going to get it in this one."
JJ - Tue, Mar 23, 2010 - 10:52pm (USA Central)
now, bear in mind that I haven't watched any episodes after this one yet (making my way through) so I could be completely wrong. But to my eyes at the moment, this ep seems like a brilliant inversion of the usual crazy domestic terrorist/conspiracy theorist hostage episode for one simple reason - the conspiracy theory is TRUE!! Cylons DID infliltrate the highest levels of humanity which lead to the initial attack (despite Admiral Adama's protestations that maybe they just caught us with our guard down). And what's more, the original weak link is not only the vice president, HE'S STILL BETRAYING THE FLEET TO THE CYLONS!!! The conspiracy is probably even bigger than they realise.

And I reckon they're right on sharon too. She's playing them. The fleet's being played. I think there's possibly two factions within the cylons and Sharon/Six are in the less evil of the two, but this faction (or the cylons as a whole if there aren't two factions) is clearly using pregnant sharon to infiltrate the fleet. To what ultimate end I'm not sure, but some combination of leading them to earth in order to utterly destroy humanity or creating a hybrid-human race that will maybe lead to peace between the races/factions seems likely. Either way, Sharon's interests are very unlikely to match the fleet's interests and she SHOULD be killed as a security threat which is exactly what the terrorists are demanding.

This is what sets this episode apart from run of the mill terrorist/hostage scenarios. The bad guys are right. I think :).
Jeff - Thu, May 12, 2011 - 10:44am (USA Central)
If you watch the following episode, Dualla is in bed with Apollo. In hindsight, Billy shouldn't have taken a bullet for that whore!
Polt - Sun, Jun 5, 2011 - 11:20am (USA Central)
I hated this episode. I liked Billy from the beginning, and I like the relationship between him and Dualla, finding it young frech and remantic. Plus, Billy was decent eye candy.

I've not watched any episodes after this, but it seems to me they killed off Billy just so Apollo could schtupp Dualla without Billy being in the way. It was pointless, arbitrary, and just wrong. Much like Ianto's death in Torchwood.

I'm hoping there's more to it than just that. maybe future episodes will reveal something to come out of this. I hope so.
Jammer - Sun, Jun 5, 2011 - 12:22pm (USA Central)
The actor playing Billy (Paul Campbell) was not a series regular and if I recall correctly, he was pursuing other roles at the time. When the writers realized he was not likely to be available long-term, they decided to kill the character. It's likely they would not have killed the character at this time had the actor been available.

Billy also was supposed to accompany Roslin when she fled Galactica in "Resistance." But Campbell was not available for the arc, so they wrote that exchange between Roslin and Billy where he says that he can't go with her because that would be crossing a line. Sometimes on TV the realities of the business influence what gets written.
Nic - Mon, Jun 13, 2011 - 10:23pm (USA Central)
I don't buy Dualla/Lee for one second. Maybe Billy/Dualla didn't work either, maybe they were together out of desperation from losing all their loved ones on the colonies. But in any case it would have been interesting to explore. Instead they quickly killed him off and no one mourns except Roslin (in what is probably the best scene of the episode).

And how could anyone still think Sharon is 'playing' them? If it wasn't for her they would ALL BE DEAD by now. They owe her their lives, several times over. It's revolting enough that they still keep her in a cell. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: the only two characters I'm rooting for are Helo and Sharon.
Michael - Fri, Nov 18, 2011 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
Bah, too many cliches, too much decadence. I used to adore Dee until she started flirting with Lee (can't bring myself to call him Apollo anymore) but now I positively detest the two-timing hussie. Of course, Lee is just as bad, humping one slut after another. I didn't find the drama over will-he-live/will-he-die moving or tense at all. Firstly, we all knew he wasn't going to die; and secondly, AFAIWC, he got shot in the wrong side of the chest anyway...

Not happy about Billy being killed off. I understand about the show production and all, but they could have replaced him with a lookalike. He was one of the few sweet and innocent, truly likable characters on there.

Not happy about Starbuck further imploding. She's a shadow of her former self.

@Nic:
I am inclined to agree with you concerning Boomer's treatment, but, then, why was her riposte to Adam's question--albeit hypothetical--about whether she would give up cylon agents in the Fleet negative?

I wouldn't trust her either if I was in their shoes. I'd perhaps not sheckle and manacle her the way they're doing, but I'd not give her free reign of Galactica either.
Keiren - Thu, Apr 26, 2012 - 3:42am (USA Central)
Saw Billys death coming instantly....but missed the Sharon body swap....amazing what you pick up on!
Nebula Nox - Sun, Jan 27, 2013 - 8:38am (USA Central)
I miss Billy. Like everyone, he lost everyone but he simply swallowed his grief and continued. He struggled to make a life for himself in the new situation. I liked the fact that he generally complained less; that he was not as deeply tortured - despite having suffered the way everyone else had.
Clint - Fri, May 31, 2013 - 6:34pm (USA Central)
Crappy episode. I was not impressed at all.

Farewell, Billy! We hardly knew ye. Oh well... At least you got to have lots of sex, like all the other characters on the show. Oh wait- darn!

Maybe Billy will show up later as a Cylon. Then he will get to have lots of sex, as that seems to be what Cylons do best. Maybe their whole "plan" is simply to create a new supply of porn for all their buddies stuck on the Cylon homeworld, who are slightly bored with only 12 models to choose from :)
Tloser - Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - 9:18pm (USA Central)
Regarding the killing off of characters... I think the most extreme example that I've seen is MI-5 (or Spooks). Except for Harry Pearce, they dispose off every other major character at any time. On the one hand it does create lot's of suspense and tension as anyone is seriously fair game for the writers. But on the other hand, it really sucks when you bond with the characters and they are offed. I was especially pissed that Tom Quinn was offed. Back to BSG... I understand that some wanted Lee gone instead of Billy, and maybe that wouldn't been ok. But if BSG replicated MI-5's quality and quantity of major character off'ings then I am not sure it would be as enjoyable of a show.
Cureboy - Sat, Dec 28, 2013 - 12:48am (USA Central)
I am not liking the Dee and Lee. It's not for me. And I really don't like that Billy had to be killed off. The Dee/Lee seemed to come out of nowhere. She seemed perfectly happy with Billy. I think this was more like the writers mixing things up
SPR - Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - 8:57pm (USA Central)
Was not a fan of this one. I think killing Billy off was unnessecary. Also Lee really needs to keep his libido in check. We've seen him sleep with 3 women in the last 3(?) episodes, it's starting to feel a little over the top.

Hey, but on the plus side, there's no flash-forward in this one.

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